The thought of summer in Brisbane is better than the actual season you’re backhanded come October or November. The first few weeks are fantastic: you bust out the shorts and barbeques, sipping beers and vodka tonics. But by February-March, the whole thing gets a little tiresome. Wetting your underpants with sweat just isn’t fun anymore, and besides, you probably have the flu from constantly walking in and out of air conditioning. This place needs a fucking beach, and who attached us to GMT +10? Even in December the sun goes down at about 5pm.
Still, sitting here in the Southern Hemisphere, tolerating an unusually cold spell, a sub-tropical Australian summer seems like the best idea somebody ever came up with. And reading about the good times up north doesn’t help – what I would give for a gin sling and a decent music festival.
So, this is a disassociated summer jam, compiled from memories of summers past and longings for summers future. And while the tunes I’ve gathered are often wistful and sometimes delivered by men permanently disassociated from summer (see The Stranglers), I like to think it’s still a song cycle by which you can get your groove on and watch the girls go by.
By the time you read this it will be moving into the final days of the Northern heat. Be sure to make ‘em count.
Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda
Queenstown, New Zealand is known as one of the premier snow resorts below the equator, but what most of its millions of visitors never find out is that summer is the district’s true blue riband season. The sun actually sneaks above the mountains, sprinkling a brilliant warmth across the town, and Lake Wakatipu changes from a dreary loch into a luminescent, crystal playground. I was 21 when I spent a year and half in Queenstown, and nothing reminds me of the summer I experienced like Journey in Satchidanada. I’d discovered Alice Coltrane’s finest moment late that spring, and would spin it just about every sun-kissed evening, lazing on the verandah with my Sunday girlfriend. She smelled of flowers and tasted lightly of salt, her silken long legs always keen to wrap themselves round your waste. We would recline and listen to Journey and drink tequila and eat paella. The world almost ceased to spin on those long evenings, gently brought to a halt by Alice’s little finger.
Donovan – Get Thy Bearings
I’ll never forget the last school camp I attended. I was 13, and by the second night the late summer rains had reduced our group into a sodden, demoralised mess only half a step removed from William Golding. It was somewhere past midnight, and the rain was beating down mercilessly, when the sounds of a bored out exhaust came rolling up from the valley below. This was the Gold Coast so nothing new, until the engine note peaked unnaturally. Suddenly there were howling tyres followed by a spine chilling crunch and scraping metal. I sat bolt upright; torches came on. Rob, our camp guide, appeared half a minute later, asking for volunteers to come with him down to the road. He was probably looking for two or three, but instead got about 12 kids following him down the mountainside, feet slipping in the rock and mud. It was maybe only five minutes but felt like an hour before we scrambled up the verge of the two-lane valley highway. There, lying on its side in the middle of the road, was an old RX-7. The hazards were blinking and rain swept through the beam of the one remaining headlight – I remember thinking how much harder it made the downpour seem. Confronted by the chaos, our boyhood bravado turned sour – one of the guys burnt his hand on the exposed, steaming exhaust system. Rob made us stand back as he carefully peered into the upturned passenger window. There was a guy inside, maybe 20 or so, trapped tight by a jammed pre-tensioned seatbelt but otherwise unharmed. He’d just had a fight with his girl. It was the first time I’d ever heard Get Thy Bearings, Donovan’s voice flooding out of the Mazda’s tricked out sound system. Its easy groove has since become a summer favourite, but a part of the song will remain forever tied to that peculiar night.
Labi Siffre – I Got The
Just about everybody’s experienced this. There you are, enjoying the summer of your life, crossing off festivals and kicking it at the beach, all with the perfect lady or gent on your arm. And then about halfway through July, he or she dumps your sorry ass. Labi Siffre obviously experienced it, thankfully writing I Got The for you to pick up the pieces to. What a gent. For those who haven’t heard this before, a shiny, crisp penny will drop at about the two and a half minute mark.
Billy Stewart – Summertime
I can’t vouch for the claim that there are 15,000 different recorded versions of Gershwin’s Summertime, but I also can’t imagine this not being the best. You of course know Billy Stewart from Jay Electronica’s Exhibit C, which cast his 1968 hit Cross My Heart as a frame for one of the most astounding rap releases of the new millennium. Summertime, though, was his most substantial hit, the musical equivalent of long boarding into Hawaii’s North Shore and kicking off a barbecue party. I became acquainted with Billy Stewart during the greatest bucks weekend ever, of which I can’t remember anything except dune surfing, booze, an involved argument over what would make a better defence witness – a kookaburra or an emu – and of course, this amazing song.
The Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom
The second wave of ska hit big in New Zealand, but this being the end of the world, things tended to get mashed-up and movements thrown together. So the kids would snap on their suspenders over Bob Marley tie-dyes, head on down to the community centre and roller skate to Madness. Of the 2 Tone acts that dominated the British charts in the early 80s, Madness had the biggest impact in Aotearoa, but The Beat were probably the best. I Just Can’t Stop is a phenomenal listen, and the jewel in its crown is Mirror in the Bathroom, perfect for any frenzied, sweaty roll around the dance floor.
The Stranglers – Peaches
I may now make a mean shrimp salad and talk like I’ve got oral thrush, but I’m not actually Australian. I spent my formative years in New Zealand, a tiny, topsy-turvy nation, made famous by its rugby teams and jetboats. As an example of this oddness, in the 1980s the national radio station’s weekend sports report was introduced by one of punk’s greatest bass lines. Incongruous perhaps, but then everyone in New Zealand likes sport, whether you’re male or female, straight or gay, mod or punk. I became acquainted with Peaches by sitting in the car every Saturday while my mother played squash (usually with Bret’s mum, Flight of the Conchords fans). It was only later in life that I realised the subversion of it all. It was and remains a cracking summer tune, even if it’s from a bunch of Englishmen who look like they’ve never seen a sliver of daylight.
De La Soul & Teenage Fanclub – Fallin’
My embrace of rap music didn’t come until relatively late, but perhaps the seeds were sewn with this early 90s oddity. Like any self-respecting indie kids, my older brothers raced out to grab the Judgement Night soundtrack upon its release initial release. They weren’t interested in the film, just the mid-disc Faith No More – Boo-Yaa TRIBE cut. It was Fallin’, though, that ended up getting spun again and again and again. Around this time in Brisbane liking rap music was almost unheard of, but the Teenage Fanclub tee up helped Fallin’ slip down effortlessly, best evidenced by my brother making his way across the creek and cricket fields at the back of our house to a booming midsummer party about a quarter of a mile away. Probably half a dozen times over the rest of that night Pos and Dave’s couplets came rolling back at me as I sat on the couch trying to ace NHLPA Hockey ’93. For my brothers it was just a passing interest, but for me Fallin’ became the tune of that summer, and probably my young mind’s entry point into hip-hop.
Cunninlynguists (feat. Masta Ace) – Seasons
Cunninlynguists have never been a personal rap favourite, but this Lexington trio possess a clever knack of capturing life in the Bluegrass Region. You can smell the sweat on Southernunderground, their 2003 LP coming off like the end of a long, humid summer, Deacon, Kno and Mr. SOS sounding subdued, almost exhausted. Seasons casts the history of hip-hop as the four distinct spells of the year, but for me Masta Ace, RJD2 and a brilliant Melba Moore sample confirm this as a late holiday favourite, one to set spinning while you wait for the rains to begin.
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Streets of New York
The summer of 01-02 was underscored by some of the headiest days of my young punkass life. I was 22, with little in the way of responsibilities, forever waylaying decisions such as what it was exactly that I wanted to do with my life. One of the staples in the clubs was Groove Armada’s My Friend and a night out on the town would invariably leave it grafted on your brain, lazy DJs utilising the disposable, candy-cane collision of Brandy and The Fatback Band to control the dance floor. A year later things had changed: I’d been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing an intense regime of chemotherapy. Under the murky spell of treatment I ceased caring about the things that were important to me – I didn’t read, I stopped taking people’s calls, I forgot about music. Leading into the holiday season I lay in hospital, jacked up on nausea-controlling steroids, quietly resisting an urge to jump through the window, when my father arrived, white as a ghost: my brother had been mugged in Melbourne, stabbed multiple times for a 20 and a packet of Stuyvesants. That Christmas we both lay in hospital, he in Melbourne, me in Brisbane. For my family, this was probably a low. Later that summer, as I was slowly recovering, one of the first tunes handed to me by a friend was Streets of New York. I’m not sure if it was the returning appetite I had for anything that I loved or simply the hyper-coloured combustible nature of the cut, but I couldn’t stop playing it. It still took me a long time to figure out my life, and Melbourne ain’t the five boroughs (well, not quite anyway), but I grew up fast that summer, and my change in perspective will always seem signposted by Streets of New York.
Mayer Hawthorne – Maybe So, Maybe No
Wearing a seersucker suit during the local summer wouldn’t be described by anybody as a good idea, but six months ago I was probably considering it. The Internet tends to make global spread instantaneous. Even so, Australia was a touch slow to catch on to the Mayer Hawthorne magic. It’s really only now that his music is trickling into the headphones of the cool kids. Still, last summer this was the tune to be singing with the windows down, embarrassing your passengers. He may be doing impressions of Sir Mix-A-Lot, but Mayer Hawthorne remains the dorkiest dude in the world that guys want to be and girls want to be with.
Willie Hutch – (I’m Gonna) Hold On
It’s fair to say I’m not a great dancer. I take to the Harlem Shuffle like somebody’s squeezing my testicles. All that seems to change, though, when I listen to Hold On. It doesn’t matter if you move with the grace of John Travolta in Perfect, you’ll be swing dancing like a madman after a few spins of this. I wouldn’t say Hold On is so much a song of summers past, but one of the summer just ahead – it’s my way of looking forward to warm nights, silky sound systems and girls in summer dresses shimmying across the dance floor. I can’t wait.
RJD2 – 1976
I’m almost ashamed to say that this song flew under my radar until I caught its slick but very simple music video. It took me about a month to realise it was RJD2 – just like, 13 years ago, it took me about a month to realise Taylor Hanson was a dude. Looking back, my retarded mind likes to simplify things and CliffsNote Since We Last Spoke as the beginning of Def Jux’s long slide into mediocrity, but there are some undeniably great tunes on there. 1976 is one of them and if in the last six or seven years I’ve been preparing for a barbecue, it will have most certainly been on the accompanying mixtape.
Ty feat. Roots Manuva – So You Want More
Not so long ago, for a number of years in a row, I had the dubious honour of working the Virgin Blue Airlines summer post party. The event was inevitably a crapshoot, leaning heavily on whether or not the arranged transport delivered the hundreds of staff members from the main event at Brisbane airport. Still, when it went off it went off, and you could easily find yourself getting home at about nine in the morning. The last one I ever worked looked, at midnight, to be an unmitigated disaster: the place – a converted restaurant – was empty; the buses hadn’t arrived. The DJ was soon unplugged and most of the bartenders sent home. Of course, about 15 minutes later the first Greyhound wheezed to a halt outside the front doors, followed by another, then another. 500 eager stewardesses pinged their way through the entrance. For me, it was a first on two counts: I’d never had to unblock a toilet before (by 5am I’d notched up three successes), and for the initial hour I had to cobble together a playlist in lieu of an actual DJ… every boy’s dream! But when it came to rockin’ the party, I was all thumbs – the ladies of the airways were largely disinterested and the dance floor remained embarrassingly static. So You Want More was pretty much the one pulsating exception. For about five minutes I made people move, hips and bolt-on breasts swinging like the place was actually a club. You could probably put it down to the drugs, and I don’t think I’ll be purchasing Ableton anytime soon, but for a short five minutes of my life I felt like a proper DJ, and it’s largely due to Ty and Roots Manuva.
Dub Pistols feat. Terry Hall – Rapture
Never watch Jacob’s Ladder when you have a fever. That’s the important lesson I learned about three years ago. Stranded at a bad summer party and suffering a raging temperature, I took some painkillers and raided a stack of DVDs in the corner of the lounge room. Jacob’s Ladder: I remembered it being a little Kafkaesque, but nothing I couldn’t handle the first time around. I’m not sure if it was the fact that the party suddenly went up a gear, or maybe the hydro-smoker sitting opposite screaming the whole way through, or even just the fact that this song was being pumped over and over throughout the party, but I lost my shit later that night. The tune itself is a fantastic, throbbing recreation of the Blondie classic, but the Dub Pistols’ take on Rapture still tends to make me just a little paranoid.
The Nextmen feat. Demolition Man – Piece of the Pie
Despite its slowly growing popularity in an international sense, dancehall has never really pricked the consciousness of Brisbane’s narrow, chemically driven club scene. But if there’s a recent track that came close to breaching the DJ booth, this is it. Leveraging off the good names of The Nextmen, Piece of the Pie was almost ubiquitous in the supers during the summer of 2007 and 2008. And fair enough too – it bangs along at a ferocious tempo and features some of Demolition Man’s best work. Nobody knew what the fuck it was, but at least they knew that it sounded good.
Reachout – Stimulation of Chaos
If you travel north out of Melbourne, meandering your way past the wineries and cheese houses, cattle stations, power stations and reservoirs, you’ll eventually hit the Victorian Alps. This is wild country – bushranger country – made famous by names such as Ned Kelly and Mad Dog Morgan. At the back of the ranges, about as far away from Melbourne you can get, is Mount Buffalo. It’s a bizarre place; a high plateau pockmarked by alien rock formations and abandoned ski runs. At the southern end of the plateau is The Horn, and spending a summer’s evening there is almost a rite-of-passage for anybody working on the mountain. Looking out, you see no sign of civilisation, just range after range of wooded mountainside shimmering in the slow twilight. And at night-time, if it’s cloudy, just one single light shines in the distance: the chalet at Mount Buller, ceded for the summer months but still illuminating the passing banks of cumulus. Stimulation of Chaos could just as easily be a city song or a winter song, but for me it can’t help but speak of that particular exquisite summery desolation.
Jane’s Addiction – Summertime Rolls
October 14, 1988 was the date our family moved to Australia. I’ll always remember stepping off the plane to a 100+ degree heat wave and thinking we’d descended into hell. I didn’t really get into Jane’s Addiction until a few years later, but Nothing’s Shocking will always remind me of my first Australian summer. During the late 80s Brisbane counterculture had a strong slant towards anything SoCal, whether it be Suicidal Tendencies, Slovak-era Chilli Peppers and Jane’s, or just skateboarding, Bermuda shorts and the Bones Brigade. Nothing’s Shocking feels like brilliant aural shorthand for that very weird arrival, it’s fiery, psychedelic contours a perfect accompaniment to the sun-beaten oversaturation of a debut subtropical summer.